On the face of it, which is about as deep as you can go with this band, there's nothing much to like about Elastica and everything to hate about them: They're such a rip-off of Gang of Four and Wire they've been taken to court on charges of plagiarism; when they aren't swiping from old British punks they're stealing wholesale from old American punks (Blondie for one, or a thousand); and when they aren't stealing from old British or American punks, they're nothing but a flaccid imitation of one Polly Jean Harvey (see: "Hold Me Now" and "S.O.F.T." for starters). On top of all that, the music is all shiny surface, clean and polished on top and blank-white underneath--tense guitars, pretty vocals, alternately dark and catchy songs about sex and TV and food. Like all things new wave, Elastica exudes as much honest emotion as a plastic baby doll that cries when you pull a string.
During Blondie's heyday, Lester Bangs was commissioned to write what was perhaps the nastiest band-approved biography ever written. In it, he took Debbie Harry and her bandmates to task for subbing out emotion with irony; he lambasted them for being hollow at their core, and when he wrote the following words he could have just as easily been writing about Elastica: "The music seems to have no really strong emotions in it, and what emotions do surface occasionally, what obsessions and lusts, are invariably almost immediately gutted by fusillades of irony, sarcasm, camp...IF THE MAIN REASON WE LISTEN TO MUSIC IN THE FIRST PLACE IS TO HEAR PASSION EXPRESSED--as I've believed all my life--THEN WHAT GOOD IS THIS MUSIC GOING TO PROVE TO BE?"
Not much, whether you're talking Blondie or Elastica. Going back to Elastica's eponymous debut months after its release reveals a handful of catchy would-be singles ("Stutter," "Vaseline," "Smile"), a car song ("Car Song," appropriately) that nose-dives off the unexpected cliff, and other assorted jingly and jangly melodies that mask their pop overtures in punk underwear. But it's not so much pop as product, a ready-made artifact that garnered a little attention and acclaim when it came out but disappeared after MTV stopped playing the single and Lollapalooza ended. In a post-Nirvana world, every band's a one-hit wonder even if it scores two singles, and Elastica is/was no exception. They had a hit, but they never drew blood.
Elastica performs November 24 at the Bomb Factory.